These eight little kitchen tricks may seem obvious to folks who have worked in a commercial kitchen, but the happy home cook deserves conveniences, too! These are simple adjustments you can make to your cooking domain to make yourself speedier around the stove–and in a few cases, even save some cash.
1. Waste Less and Make Soup a Snap
If you love to cook, you’ve probably tossed out your fair share of broccoli stalks, carrot peels, celery leaves, and other scraps from your recipe prep. Sure, you wouldn’t sit down to a dinner of hard asparagus trimmings or onion ends, but that doesn’t mean those bits are useless. Use a gallon freezer bag or large tupperware container to store all your unused vegetable waste. Once you fill the bag, fill a stock pot with a few quarts of water, toss the veggies in and simmer for about 30-45 minutes. Strain, allow to cool, and pour into ice cube trays. Once the cubes have set, toss them back in the freezer for homemade vegetable stock in convenient 1 oz cubes. You’ll never have to buy bouillon cubes or broth in a box again.
2. Keep Cooking Oil Accessible
In professional kitchens, we keep our oils in squeeze bottles for easy access, speed while cooking, and more control over pouring. Once you do the same at home, you’ll never go back to the big bottles! You can pick up small containers with a pour spout for less than a few bucks (check out these stylish glass bottles or these affordable plastic squeeze bottles). Label and fill them with your favorite cooking oils to keep next to the stove. Store bulk oil purchases in the pantry or under the sink and refill as necessary.
3. One Step Salt & Pepper
The two most used seasonings in all of cuisine are kosher salt and ground black pepper. Keeping an open salt dish near your cooking station is a timesaving must for anyone who cooks frequently. Find the ratio of salt and pepper you prefer, and mix a big batch. Keep your salt dish stocked and you’ll be able to season most dishes in seconds with one quick pinch instead of fumbling with various jars.
4. Masking Tape is Your Friend
How many times have you stared at an old, plastic wrapped bowl filled with leftovers and tried to determine if it was still safe to eat? Or tried to remember exactly when you opened that jar of pasta sauce? Keep a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker handy near the fridge (you can even use a magnetic setup like this). Every time you open a can or jar, or each time you store leftovers, simply tear off a piece of tape and date it so you’ll always know how fresh your food is. In the professional culinary industry, most prepared foods have a 7 day shelf life. At home, you can get away with considerably longer. But at least you’ll know exactly *how* much longer!
5. Stackable Organization
Milk crates are in no short supply in any professional kitchen. Dairy, juices, breads, cans, and all manner of edibles are delivered in these sturdy plastic cubes. They’re useful for more than just deliveries, though. You can see inside them, they stack perfectly, and they’re not susceptible to crushing from weight, so they’re fantastic for kitchen organization. Keep bulk purchases, cleaning supplies, dry goods like pasta or canned foods, or extra pots and pans sorted in milk crates, then simply stack them in a corner or under a counter for out-of-the-way but easily accessible storage. Milk crates should typically get sent back to the manufacturer, but more often than not, they’ll end up cluttering restaurant kitchens and waste areas. Ask your favorite local eatery if they have a few (or a few dozen) that you could take home.
6. Forget You Ever Bought Paper Towels
Invest in a big set of kitchen towels or simply cut up old cotton clothing into useable cleaning rags. You’ll save money and the environment by not buying and throwing away paper towels. Clean cloth rags are perfect for cleaning up spills, handling hot pans, covering doughs while they rise, drying your hands, pressing tofu, drying dishes, or anything else you’d use paper products for. Place a small wastebasket under the sink to collect soiled towels and toss them in the wash when it fills up. Just one tip about laundering: use unscented detergent and avoid fabric softener if you’re going to be using them in food preparation!
7. Utilize Your Wall Space
Free up counter and drawer space by installing a magnetic knife bar or hanging bar to store your cutlery and utensils. Your knives won’t risk getting dinged up or premature dulling from bouncing around a kitchen drawer, and you won’t have to deal with a large knife block or utensil vase cluttering up your counter. Try this affordable 22″ bar or swing through your local hardware store. You should be able to find a solution for $20 or less, and you can install them yourself with a screwdriver. You may want to use drywall anchors just to be safe.
8. Speaking of Knives… Sharpen Those Bad Boys!
Pick up a sharpening stone or sharpening steel to keep your knives in tip-top cutting shape. Dull knives are inefficient and can be downright dangerous, and most people don’t even realize how dull their knives really are. Avoid one-step sharpeners as they can snag and cause injury and often don’t do the best job on your knife. Sharpening stones and steels are inexpensive and easy to use. Check out this instructional video from Howcast. Once you get used to working with a sharpened knife, you’ll never let them go dull again.